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Networking & Communications

The Networking & Communications Blog is the place for conversation and discussion about power & apps, wireless technology, voice & internet, and network security as they relate to networking and communications fields. Here, you'll find everything from application ideas, to news and industry trends, to hot topics and cutting edge innovations.

Bridging the Industrial IoT Gap With Learning Tools For Engineers, Students and Makers

Posted January 15, 2017 12:00 AM by Heiko Luckhaupt
Pathfinder Tags: Arduino iot RS Components siemens

Heiko Luckhaupt, Industry Sector Marketing Manager at RS Components discusses the gap between the IoT and the industrial world and a new open Arduino-compatible development platform for students and other learners to help bridge the divide.

To help students, makers and young developers in the transition from simple IoT projects and prototypes to entry-level industrial applications, the SIMATIC IOT2020 from Siemens is a highly valuable tool for university laboratories and academic environments active in the field of electronics and automation. IOT2020 is an Arduino-compatible industrial IoT gateway and builds a bridge between the two worlds by combining the flexibility of open-source ecosystems and high-level programming languages with the standards and established communication protocols. The system provides a simple way for engineers to get started with the industrial IoT, while meeting the challenges of an increasingly connected world. The highly affordable device comes with industrial certificates such as UL and CE. While being suitable for a large range of industrial customers, it is also perfect for educational purposes and provides students with the ideal platform to get a rapid experience of practical development. It also enables start-up companies and makers to develop, transform and build ideas into professional industrial projects and applications.

The IOT2020 is an open and flexible IoT gateway that is designed for continuous industrial operation. It can be used to retrieve, process, analyse and send data to almost any kind of device due to its various interfaces including Ethernet, USB and micro SD. The gateway is compatible with open-source software such as the Arduino IDE and Linux, as well as third-party hardware such as PLCs and sensors from various different brands via Modbus or PROFINET. The product is also compatible with Arduino shields and various programming languages, including high-level languages such as Java, C++ and JSON via a range of IDEs that include Eclipse and compilers for Yocto Linux. It is also expandable via an on-board PCIe port. Compatibility with the Arduino IDE and Arduino shields will enable students and makers to scale up their existing desktop-built projects and start getting familiar with industrial standards and communications protocols.

Overall, the new system brings together industrial standards with the flexibility of open hardware and software and will be a valuable tool for students and makers facing the challenge of developing industrial applications in an increasingly hyper-connected world.

Editor's Note: This is a sponsored blog post from RS Components Industrial.

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When Alexa Goes Wild

Posted January 11, 2017 2:33 PM by HUSH

In 2008—back when we were still sticking GPS units and mounts to our windshields like cavemen—I owned a Magellan GPS that included voice recognition. In addition to about two dozen preprogrammed commands (e.g., “Magellan, nearest gas”), I could also speak directly at the device to input my destination. This GPS was also one of the first to integrate Bluetooth, which allowed me to take and make phone calls hands-free. At the time, I drove a black sedan with tinted windows, which added up to one of my friends calling my car the Batmobile.

Obviously, the GPS technology of 2008 doesn’t hold up well to modern standards. With rare exception, people use their phones or integrated GPS for navigation these days. Bluetooth is standard on most new cars.

And even though the voice recognition feature was cool, it wasn’t very useful. I’d estimate that the GPS would accurately recognize and execute commands less than 25% of the time. So, considering that there are about 10 different digital, intelligent personal assistants (IPAs) out on the market today, the rise of voice recognition technology is fairly impressive. We’re crowded by Alexa, Cortana, Siri and the gang, each of whom has been integrated into dozens of proprietary and licensed devices.

However, I’m still hesitant to adopt one of these digital orphans in my home. I can clearly recognize the value of them—reading a recipe while you cook, providing a weather forecast while you get dressed, ordering pizza with a short command—but I can never shake the feeling of always being listened to.

The developers promise that even though the microphone is always on, IPAs only respond and begin to record once they recognize their ‘wake word.’ Additionally, these devices typically have a short reception range, typically the size of a small room or less, so if you keep them out of the bathroom and bedroom, embarrassing audio captures are much less likely. However, as a consumer, it’s virtually impossible to know exactly what an Echo or Google may have overheard and saved.

I also feel there are many unforeseen consequences to be witnessed. Case in point: last week, a news story popped up about unintentional orders placed via Amazon’s Alexa, in this case integrated into the Amazon Echo. A San Diego news station did a fluff story about how a six-year-old girl accidentally ordered a $160 dollhouse by asking Alexa to play with her and get her a dollhouse. Once the anchor of the news station repeated the phrase “Alexa ordered me a dollhouse,” Alexa devices in viewers’ homes began placing orders for dollhouses.

Since these devices can’t hold a full-on conversation—yet—they fall short when there are ambiguities in language that might be cleared up by context, inflection, body language, and numerous other variables.

(However, putting two [modded] Google Homes next to each other can result in some strange dialogue. It's not sexual at all, really.)

Even though the AI behind IPAs is quite impressive, I can’t help but feel that it’s worth holding out for the next generation.

14 comments; last comment on 01/13/2017
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Apple Pursuing Augmented Reality Glasses That Connect to an iPhone

Posted December 11, 2016 12:00 AM by Engineering360 eNewsletter

Apple Inc. is exploring augmented reality (AR) glasses that could connect wirelessly to an iPhone and show images and other information in the user's field of vision. The company reportedly purchased near-eye displays for testing. The project could have stemmed from Apple's recent acquisitions of PrimeSense, a company that makes motion-sensing technology, as well as some other AR start-up companies.

Editor's Note: This news brief was brought to you by the Networking & Communications eNewsletter. Subscribe today to have content like this delivered to your inbox

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The Rise of Fog Computing

Posted November 11, 2016 12:00 AM by Engineering360 eNewsletter

The Internet of Things needs a new way of processing and analyzing the data generated by the intelligent objects populating the digital landscape. A paradigm called fog computing, however, may correct the problem. The approach advocates shifting more computing and memory resources to the network's edge to enable real-time, data-driven decision making. Specialized devices called fog nodes and fog gateways move data processing to the optimum location for deterministic applications.

Learn more about network gateways

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7 comments; last comment on 11/13/2016
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The Purpose of Chip & PIN Technology

Posted October 05, 2016 9:32 AM by HUSH

Is anyone else annoyed by chip and pin/signature technology? Buying anything lately feels like a real pain.

After the person ahead of me completes their transaction, it becomes my turn to struggle. It begins by swiping the magnetic strip and the reader buzzing. “Please insert card into the chip reader.” Ok, I do. But then I either remove it too soon because the screen flashes, or I outright forget the card while I’m grabbing my bags or packing the shopping cart. The cashier (who has learned POS does not represent point-of-sale in this instance) resentfully reminds me of the card, before handing over the receipt and beginning the sequence anew with another shopper.

Sure, these are trivial annoyances, but was the old ‘swipe the stripe’ system that flawed? It supposedly protects my identity and accounts better, but the only time they were ever stolen was because of the credit card company’s data breaches anyhow.

We know it as chip and pin technology, but technically they are called EMV cards after the three brands that worked together to create the technology (Europay, Mastercard and Visa). The consortium wanted a way to reduce credit card fraud, and locating an integrated circuit within the credit card was deemed to be the solution.

Did you know cashiers have the responsibility to check for the correct hologram on non-EMV cards? Cardholder identity checks were also supposed to be performed by comparing the card’s signature to the signature on the receipt. (This is why some folks write “see ID” on their signature line—and many times their identity still isn’t verified!) Yet I don’t think either of those ever happened, and because credit card companies were on the hook for fraudulent charges, they ultimately felt a card redesign was necessary.

The security upgrade stems from the fact the chip on modern credit cards is much harder and more expensive to duplicate. This chip also contains card and account information that must be read and processed by the card reader’s software, which is why the card must remain in the card reader for a few moments longer. When magnetic stripes were first introduced on credit cards in the 1970s, they too were cutting edge technology, but today a stripe reader/writer can be had on the Internet for less than $100.

The chip also communicates with the card issuer’s network to co-create a one-time transaction approval code, so if hackers steal transaction information, they cannot use the account numbers to make phony charges.

Also, most of the world that has upgraded to EMV cards—the U.K., Ireland, Canada, France, Finland, the Netherlands— and prefer to use PINs instead of signatures, which the United States still does, along with Mexico, Germany and the Philippines. In fact the U.S. is well behind the curve on EMV technology, as it has been rolled out in Europe for over a decade.

What caused the sudden exodus to chip and PIN technology in the U.S.? As of October 1, 2015, credit card issuers will no longer take responsibility for fraudulent purchases, and the onus will be on the retailer for using outdated technology. It is expected that sometime soon all purchases made by credit card will require the chip, and the magnetic stripe will be phased out.

While EMV is drastically reducing potential fraud, it is also saving the credit card companies from having to cover fraudulent charges, which was the primary motivation in the switch to EMV. Yet keeping the magnetized strip, even for now, basically makes chip and PIN technology useless. It can still be easily duplicated, and any time a striped card leaves a wallet is a chance for copying the magnetic stripe.

So while I roll my eyes in the checkout line, I should at least be grateful it isn’t the 1960s, when the clerk would check my card’s status in a printed manual, call the company if it was a large purchase, and then make a carbon copy on flatbed card imprinter. Those were the days…

14 comments; last comment on 11/15/2016
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